Attractive beaches that hug the warm Atlantic ocean, whitewashed old villages, traditional fishing ports, tranquiil town squares lined with pretty cafes and numerous golf courses with sweeping coastal views; it is no surprise that the Algarve on the southernmost point of Portugal is the country’s most popular tourist destination.
Many charming holiday resorts have developed along the Algarve’s alluringly rugged coast, small villages have grown to become fantastic holiday havens which provide all the amenities you should need on your holiday. You can choose to stay in the larger, more well known cities of Lagos and Faro with their buzzing restaurants, beaches and bars. If you prefer smaller, more traditional towns as the the best place to stay in the Algarve, you can base yourself in a town such as Alvor or Sagres.
Map of the Algarve
It’s easy to travel around the enchanting Algarve coast by the train and bus network that runs between the main towns or, if you fancy hitting the sparkling sea, why not take a boat trip and explore the hidden coves and picturesque islands nearby? The Algarve has accommodation to suit all budgets and needs, from family-friendly beach havens to party-goers’ apartments and couples’ retreats – and everything in between.
The former fishing village has developed over the years to become a fully fledged holiday resort. Holidaymakers are attracted to Albufeira’s sandy shores in search of a fun summer break in the attractive Algarve. The town is busy with bars and restaurants and as night falls, the area hots up with people looking to dance the night away along the main strip. The locals, who used to rely on fishing for an income, offer boat trips to visitors who want to catch sight of dolphins or do a spot of diving.
There is an old town in the city which is a bastion of tradition in the mostly developed urban area. Walk along the old cobbles, stop off to buy gifts and trinkets at local shops and then enjoy a coffee in the old square. Accommodation in the area is a varied range of affordable, family-friendly hotels.
Lagos’s combination of laid-back location, culture and natural beauty continues to make it a popular holiday destination for those looking to soak up the sun and learn more about the area’s past. Spend the day walking among the old city walls, learning about the town’s history which dates back 2000 years. As evening falls, in the middle of Lagos things start to hot up; performers put on displays around Praca de Gil Eanes and diners begin to fill the restaurants and bars that line the streets.
Lagos also has a relaxing marina and a 4 km stretch of sandy beach for visitors to enjoy, but you can also hop on a train at Lagos railway station and enjoy the rest of the coast. The accommodation in the town is varied and caters to all different types of travelers and budgets.
Portimao has more of a community feel than neighboring holiday resorts and is the place to stay if you are looking to learn more about the local culture. The town, which was once a large fishing port, is a convenient transport hub, but also has a charm all of its own. The pretty streets ooze sun-drenched Mediterranean atmosphere, with many shops and restaurants and small cafes.
Portimao has more of a community feel than neighboring holiday resorts, and is the place to stay if you are looking to soak up the traditional Portuguese lifestyle of the locals who live in the city. Stay in one of a range of hotels or self-catering apartments that look out across the waterfront.
As the capital of the Algarve, Faro is the point where most visitors arrive in the region, but the city of Faro itself shouldn’t be overlooked. The scenic city has old walls and ancient treasures of its own to explore as well as being the gateway to Ria Formosa nature park. Faro has a refreshingly relaxing charm and is a great place to base yourself and spend time learning about Portuguese culture and exploring along the coast.
The international airport is located close to the capital and there are easy bus and rail services which connect to other towns. Stay in the city in a budget, family-run guest house or a mid-range hotel, and spend your break surrounded by the culture of the Algarve.
Right in the center of the Algarve is the trendy town of Vilamoura. The resort town is full of beautiful people, attractive beaches and captivating sites. This is the town to stay in if you like a little bit of luxury and glamour – you will be spoilt for choice with high-end accommodation, swanky bars and fine dining.
The town is centered around the Vilamoura Marina, where luxury yachts pull up as they cruise around the Med; but visitors can catch boats to travel to other destinations along the coast from here, too. Golf is also a big draw to Vilamoura, with some of the best courses in the Algarve located nearby.
Tavira is a captivating town that is set inland from the coast along the banks of the Rio Gilão river. The ancient town’s streets are lined with large whitewashed Moorish Portuguese mansions and an alluring cafe culture. Then there are beaches on the island of Ilha de Tavira, which is easy to reach by ferry ride from the center of Tavira.
Tavira often charms visitors with an easy going way of life, interesting cultural sites and delicious fresh seafood. If you want to stay in the town, you can choose to stay in stylish Portuguese guest houses or in larger apartment complexes.
Attractive Alvor has retained much of its traditional Portuguese culture. Nestled around an old harbor, the low-rise buildings have seen much less development than neighboring towns, making it the perfect base for those who aren’t into late night clubs and bars. The old town is set inland along the Ria Alvor, which makes it a picturesque spot for hotels and guest houses.
Stay along the palm-tree lined riverfront where people stroll in the evening in search of a delicious dinner at one of the restaurants in town. Stay in mid-range hotels housed in traditional buildings and explore the other towns in the area by bus or by boat. But Alvor town has a few of its own sights, including the remains of a 13th century Moorish castle.
Sagres is home to the southwesternmost harbor in Europe, but it’s the town’s dramatic position perched atop a cliff that draws people to the area. The fishing town has become popular in recent years with adventurers who want to travel further afield in order to surf and dive off of the coast of the Algarve.
Unsurprisingly, backpackers and other travelers are drawn to the area to bask on the local beaches, which are strikingly beautiful. There are some historic remains in the town to discover and some lovely local restaurants and bars which line the town square. Stay in one of the mid-range hotels or in a welcoming locally run guest house.
This idyllic village is the image of what people think of when they imagine sunning themselves in the Algarve: dramatic hunks of cliffs with blocks of colorful buildings clinging to them until the land becomes the golden beach, which slopes in the depths of the turquoise ocean.
Carvoeiro is the kind of village where you can spend your days eating and drinking and laying on the beach and not doing much else, but if you want to see what else the Algarve has to offer it is best to hire yourself a car. You can also take boat trips from the beach to sea caves nearby.
Carvoeiro has long been on the tourist trail and is very popular with tourists, but that means plentiful accommodation that suits various budgets.
One of the original holiday destinations on the Algarve, Quarteira has changed a lot over the past few decades from a tiny fishing village to a modern, fun and family friendly holiday resort. The city boasts several stunning beaches as well as a modern marina, which is packed with eateries and bars, plus a public transport system which can take you to other towns along the coast.
Accommodation in Quarteira is diverse, from affordable self-catering high-rise holiday apartments to high-end luxury resorts, which means there is something to fit everyone’s budgets. If you are a keen golfer, Quarteira is home to several championship courses for you to enjoy.
A simple train ride from the airport and you will be on some of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve. Monte Gordo’s clean beaches with their calm, warm waters attract families to holiday in the town year after year. The streets of the Gordo are lined with cafes and restaurants serving up delicious food to the many tourists, but if you fancy traveling to nearby towns to sample their cuisine then you can take the train for a small cost.
Monte Gordo is perfect for those who have a small budget as there are many guest houses and low-cost holiday hotels in the town, as well as mid-range, family-oriented hotels with their own swimming pools so you can take a refreshing swim whenever you feel like it.
Armacao de Pera is a seaside resort town that has everything you could need for your break in the Algarve: sandy beaches, tasty cuisine and interesting sights. The old fortified walls of the city are still visible around the town, while the whitewashed Armação de Pêra Chapel provides breaktaking views across the ocean. The area is also famous for the traditional pottery that is produced locally and is a great chance to pick up some hand-painted souvenirs.
There are some fantastic resorts to stay in around Armacao de Pera, from spa resorts perched up high on the cliffs to smaller, more central budget holiday apartments.
If you are looking to spend your time in the Algarve traveling around the coast then Olhão is a great place to base yourself. The town is home to the largest fishing port in the Algarve, which makes it easy to travel and catch a boat to the nearby islands, Farol, Culatra and Armonain, and the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Olhão is a quick train ride away from Faro and has some great choices of hotels which have all of the amenities you could need on your Portugese break. Make sure you take a walk through the town’s old streets and stop off at Olhão’s municipal market to shop alongside locals for fresh fruit and vegetables, and then drop into the town’s fish market to pick up some locally caught seafood for lunch.
Praia da Luz is a bulging and busy holiday resort town close to Lagos which has a whole range of accommodation to cater to different types of visitors. Like many towns along the coast, Luz has seen lots of development recently, but still remains low-rise and compact; most of the town’s sights are in walking-distance, including the beach.
Luz has all the amenities you should need to make your family holiday the best it can be: do a spot of souvenir shopping at the many market stalls that set up along the beach promenade, have lunch at one of the cafes along the waterfront, and spend afternoons lazing on the beach, which is well sheltered by rocky cliffs at one end. Just along from the promenade that runs along the beach you can also explore the remains of old Roman baths.